Major breakthrough in the fight against brain tumors
Swedish and French researchers have succeeded in developing a method that has the ability to kill the aggressive brain tumor glioblastoma. By blocking certain functions in the cells with an introduced molecule, the cancer dies from stress.
Cancer cells, especially those that form aggressive tumor forms, are cells that have lost control in one way or another and live in a highly stressed existence. In order to handle this load, the cancer cells hijack mechanisms that the healthy cells use to regulate protein production and take care of the excess proteins that are created. Without the hijacked mechanisms, the cancer cell would die.
– We have now succeeded in stopping the kidnapping of the cancer cells by introducing a specially developed molecule into the cells that blocks one of these kidnapped defense pathways of the cancer cells. This causes the cancer to kill itself, says Leif Eriksson, professor of physical chemistry at the University of Gothenburg.
Leif Eriksson’s research group has worked together with a research group at INSERM in Rennes, France. Using supercomputers and advanced simulations, the researchers developed a variant of the molecule that can also pass through the blood-brain barrier that protects the brain tissue. The research results are reported in the scientific journal iScience.
The breakthrough applies to brain tumors of the glioblastoma type. They make up about 45 percent of all brain tumors and affect about 400 people in Sweden every year. For the entire EU, the figure is 19,000 people. The prognosis for malignant glioblastoma is today very poor, only a few percent survive five years after diagnosis and treatment.
– Today, cancer treatment consists of surgery, radiation and chemotherapy. Unfortunately, it is not possible to kill all the cancer cells and therefore the tumor returns. When it does, it has often both spread and developed resistance, says Leif Eriksson in a dispatch.
Today’s forms of treatment for brain tumors often have severe side effects. In the new treatment, the researchers have not seen any side effects with the substance yet – the experimental animals treated maintained their weight, had no obvious changes in behavior, and the liver was apparently unaffected. But more extensive investigations need to be done. However, extensive cell tests have shown that the substance is non-toxic to healthy cells even at very high doses.
Now the research on this molecule continues. Much remains to be done, such as the optimization of the treatment procedure, further tests on experimental animals and more. But Leif Eriksson hopes and believes that it will be relatively quick to get the drug into clinical treatment.
– It depends a lot on whether funding comes in, to be able to take the various steps as smoothly as possible. If I think optimistically, maybe it could take five years. It’s a short period of time, but at the same time, glioblastoma is an almost 100% fatal disease, so any improvement in care means great progress, says Leif Eriksson.